In his photographic portraiture of the male body, Kari Soinio studies masculine corporeality, body language, sexuality and identity and looks at the ways perception and recognition operate through visual representations. His auto-portraiture-based work takes a critical look into masculinity and femininity in maleness, showing ambiguous bodies with traits of both and in doing so addresses and challenges masculine complacency and self-importance.
When looking at Kari Soinio’s male portraits, it feels relevant to ask, how do we actually portray the male bodies in general? Soinio’s portraits offer answers that are more subtle than loud. His work is more questioning than giving answers, more provoking than seducing, and more aiming to challenge than trying to frame simple answers. The presence in his photography is strong. The body in the images becomes the one, which is both looking at you as a viewer, and simultaneously makes its own subject the mysterious one. The portraits are saying, you can look at me now, but here is the movement, which does not create passivity of an object. The entire question could be played around the underlying theme of a ’hero’. I am a male as a subject for photography, and, therefore, when you label me, I’m aware of the multiplicity of the ways you are looking at me.
Generally, one can suppose, a man who is portrayed, stands for a cultural hero, often a superhero. We can imagine man and his sports, man in the wilderness, man in action, man doing his duty, man and the muscular body, man and a celebrity status, man and nature, man and the urban life, man and his gadgets, man in his clothing, man in his business suits. The list is endless when we think about it. In the Western art world, we tend to think a man of modernism is someone who is portrayed as part of the bourgeoisie. While he was posing, he came out as a dandy, as a flâneur, being mostly comfortable in his position of posing, being able to pose and gain gaze through a masculinity with substance (think of Oscar Wilde, for instance). Now, self-portraiture is an interesting sport itself, how to present your own body, how to create the gaze, how to, simply, pose?
How about a naked man? Is there a controversy regarding the subject? Seeing naked men in portraits is still quite a taboo outside the art-context. Perhaps, even photography and male nudity still have a quite fresh relationship. Even when the history of performance art and some theatrical traditions of avant-garde have exposed naked bodies as sites of performance throughout the past century, the subject matter still has the power to startle us. The human body and its performativity is a powerful tool enabling us to discuss society, gender, sexuality, identity, culture, power, class, race, beauty and aesthetics.
Body representations and questions relating to them, and to our ways of posing are without argument more often associated with women’s bodies. However, whether it is our bodies in advertising, in media, in television, in art, in fashion, in sports, in health and nutrition, we have opinions about our physicality. Our skin is reality. It is the window to our selves rather than what we aim to say, or how we wish to act. Our visually overexposed cultures tend to invite us to look at, to evaluate, to be seduced, to judge, to react to the lens. Yet, that is a very human characteristic. We are bodies, and we need to focus the conversation on what is our relationship to ourselves.
Kari Soinio says that his source of inspiration is the complexity of the male ’self-consciousness and body image’. This opens into many interpretations of the masculine essence in our culture, showing maleness through icons of male heroes. Soinio’s portraits discuss with these cultural images, yet they offer ways to look at the masculinity as a more vulnerable entity, which nudity already poses. Is his posing creating classic male bodies? In the ways the torso, arms, head, shoulders etc. are presenting shape and balance, yes. When it comes to mixing the color palette into the image, some of the more toned ones are definitely blurring the lines of the self. The rigid becomes more soft and round.
Is nudity a surface where naked male body transforms into something else than naked female body, because of the culture they impose? The latter is often a territory for many cultural signs, which note male gaze, voyeurism, sexism and pornography. Therefore, portraying women’s bodies differently is a constant challenge in the art of photography. The iconography of a male posing in pictures might offer a surface to investigate our bodies as sites for many identities, which are necessarily not just male. This play is of course available for ‘any-body’ regardless of gender. In Soinio’s photographs, the viewer can see a body that is in and out of balance. The portraits do not fit inside their frames, they want to step out. From this viewpoint, the naked heroism is within our acceptance of our body as a spirituality. We might see the human body as part of nature, part of yoga-culture, part of wellness and balance. The nature-body communicates across the simple boundaries of gender. Our bodies are aiming to balance and be off-balance. The experience as the viewer is to kinesthetically feel together with the portraits, and move outside the frames.
…Kari Soinio is a New York based artist working mainly with photography. He received his BA from the Lahti Polytechnic in his native Finland and his MFA from University of Art and Design in Helsinki. He has also studied at the International Center of Photography in New York…
Kari Soinio has recently shown at Storefront Bushwick in NYC (2013), at Heino Gallery (2012) and Korjaamo Gallery (2011) in Helsinki, at Northern Photographic Center in Oulu (2011) and at several galleries and museums in Finland, including numerous shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and Finnish Museum of Photography in Helsinki. His monograph “From Landscape to Place” was published in 2009 in conjunction with shows at Heino Gallery and a mid career survey at Kerava Art Museum. His show at the Institut Finlandais in Paris was part of Mois de la Photo in 2010 and received significant attention from the French art press. His work has been shown internationally in the US and in Europe: at Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield, England, NGBK gallery, Berlin, Germany, Arthouse, Sofia, Bulgaria, Ludvig Museum, Budapest, Hungary, Signe Vad gallerie, Copenhagen, Denmark, Peer Gallery, New York, USA, Gallery Papatzikou – Photobiennale Thessaloniki, Veroia, Greece, Ingrid Hansen Gallery, Washington DC, Municipality of Neapolis Gallery, Thessaloniki, Greece, and Kakelhallen, Mariehamn, Åland. Soinio’s work has appeared in NY Arts Magazine, Connaissance des Arts, l’Humanite, Réponses Photo, Art Actuel, La Tribune, Next Level and in numerous books, newspapers and TV programs in Finland.
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